Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Graphic Novels – Muse

From Humanoids Publishing, this American reprint of the French graphic album Muse offers some of the finest artwork of its kind, especially of the female form. Artist Terry Dodson was obviously given the time to obsess over each panel, figure, character and background. Dodson is a visionary artist in his superhero work—particularly with female characters. He loves drawing beautiful, curvaceous women and does it well. Here he surpasses his best art for mainstream American comics. It’s a visual treat to see him turned loose.
As for the plot, a.) who really cares, and b.) it makes no sense whatsoever. Coraline is a tall, buxom blonde hired as governess for Master Vernere, a brilliant and eccentric boy inventor. While becoming accustomed to his strange lifestyle, she is troubled by bizarre dreams when she falls asleep. Each night, she goes into the wardrobe and finds more than a lion or a witch. Inside are two fussy tailors who fit her for a new outrageous costume. She then moves through another door and into a world of grand adventure. One night she is captured by pirates. The next she fights cannibals, the next a Sultan and his guards. In each adventure, one of the brigands tries to have sex with her. Each night she rebuffs the scoundrel with a slap to the face, then wakes up in her own bed. This continues for days, until she figures out what is happening and confronts the person responsible. How she figures it out, and why this is happening, is a puzzle more opaque than the Gordian Knot and why Kim Kardashian is famous put together. I read the book and I have absolutely no clue.
Figuring it out isn’t necessary. Just enjoy the adventure, locations and good-girl art by an artist at the height of his powers. This book is a cheesecake delight and does contain nudity.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Foreign Television – Braquo and Spiral

Say what you want about the French, they make some fine crime shows.

Braquo, partly inspired by FX’s The Shield, is about a strike team of borderline corrupt cops who don’t mind leaving a swath of destruction in their wake to get results. Eddie Caplan (Jean-Hugues Anglade, an actor with endless “caring tough-guy” charisma) is their leader, a good man who tends to do wrong things for the right reasons.

Walter (Joseph Malerba) is the muscle—a tough guy with a heart of gold who is also a compulsive gambler. Theo (Nicolas Duvauchelle) is a young hotshot, too impulsive and headstrong for his own good. He also likes cocaine a lot. The cold but vulnerable Roxanne (Karole Rocher) rounds out the group. A good cop, she loves her fellow team members and takes many hits, career and otherwise, to protect them. Rocher is very attractive but has the saddest, most world-weary eyes I’ve ever seen. It definitely helps the character.

The show’s pilot opens with a cop interrogating a rapist. Knowing they don’t have enough evidence to go to trial but sick of the bad guys getting away with it, he pounds on the guy for a while, then puts his cigarette out in the rapist’s eye. That pretty much sets the tone for the series.

The strike team does some nasty stuff to catch bad guys, but so far the villains are worse by far than the cops chasing them. The actor portrayals of these damaged characters do inspire sympathy. It’s a tough life, dealing with the lowlifes of Paris and the liberal system that allows them to operate so freely. When the strike team decides to strike back, viewers understand and empathize. Personally, I’m rooting for these guys.

There are two seasons of Braquo out so far in the U.S., with eight episodes each. They’re both terrific. They are available to watch on Hulu.  

Spiral is part Law & Order, part cop/gangster show. It’s an ensemble show about the French justice system from multiple points of view; the police, the courts and the criminals. I love seeing how other cultures handle problems like crime and drug use. France seems to have two types of judges, those that sit in courtrooms and make rulings, and those that act as sort of souped-up District Attorneys who oversee investigations and occasionally go into the field. Each season of Spiral deals with multiple storylines and one overarching case that unfolds over all eight episodes. By each season finale the dramatic tension has built up to a boil and explodes. Spiral deals in shades of gray. No one is totally good or totally evil, but there are good guys and bad guys. Laure (Caroline Proust) is the strike force boss. She’s a good leader but sleeps with every co-worker who is willing. There is Pierre (Grégory Fitoussi, the French Bradley Cooper—he resembles Cooper strongly enough to be his brother), a prosecutor who loves publicity but still believes in his job and catching bad guys. Defense Attorney Joséphine Karlsson (the fiery redhead Audrey Fleurot) has incrementally taken her character over the course of the series from an ambitious defense attorney to a true scumbag mob lawyer. Actually, she may be evil.  

Spiral is electrifying drama about law and order in the darkest parts of crime-ridden Paris. The stories, acting and themes translate fine for American audiences. Highly recommended.  

Spiral is available on Hulu or Netflix streaming. Four seasons have been released in the U.S.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Comics Capsule Reviews

5/7/14 Books
Book of the Week

Alex + Ada #6
Alex + Ada #6: The Book of the Week? Of course it is. Alex has unleashed android Ada’s sentience and she is discovering the world sensation by sensation. Together they test every sensory input imaginable (except the big one, an elephant in the room at this point). Ada likes every food in the house except for oranges (presumably, they’re too tangy for her electronic taste buds). She slaughters Alex at video games. She experiments with touch, tickling and goosebumps on Alex’s skin. She desperately wants to go outside, but Alex asks her to hold off for now. They don’t want to give away that her consciousness has been awakened. If discovered, that could result in jail for Alex and the scrap heap for Ada. Bored when Alex leaves for work. Ada decides to be a vicious rulebreaker and do some gardening in the back yard. And runs smack dab into a nosy neighbor.
Still groundbreaking and sensational, Alex + Ada bursts with new and interesting ideas on every page. The book successfully looks at humanity through the lens of science fiction.

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars

Madame Frankenstein #1
Madame Frankenstein #1: In the 1930s, Courtney Bow is an attractive young debutant. Vincent Krall is a handsome scientist desperately in love with her. When Courtney is killed while taking a roadster joyride, Vincent is devastated. Cut to a few years later. Courtney’s body lies naked, scarred and sewn together on a table--a familiar scene to any horror movie enthusiast. Infused with electricity, she actually comes back to life, and just like Frankenstein’s monster, she is disoriented and confused. Using fire to subdue her (‘cause, you know ... fire bad), Vincent welcomes her back to the world. That’s a lot for a first issue, and writer Jamie S. Rich handles the events smoothly without rushing. Artist Megan Levens’s work is a bit simple and cartoony, but not bad and probably fitting the light tone (so far) of the story. This is not high drama, but is interesting enough that I will stick around for the second issue.

Rating: *** stars out of 5

Original Sin #1
Original Sin #1: I don’t read any DC comics anymore, and precious few Marvels. I enjoyed the Free Comic Book Day Original Sin #0, so thought I would dip my toes into Marvel’s latest big event. The book had mixed results.

Uatu the Watcher, a character created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the ‘60s, has been watching Earth ever since. Forbidden to interfere in human affairs, he does so anyway, regularly and brazenly. When the Watcher’s house on the moon explodes, Nick Fury (the real one, not the politically correct movie Fury Marvel has shoehorned into their books) gathers a team of Avengers to go see what happened.  In a particularly gory two-page spread, they find the Watcher dead and two bloody spots where his eyes used to be.

Noticing that a few of the Watcher’s more destructive sci-fi gadgets are missing, Fury decides they have to play detective and find who murdered Uatu and stole all of his wonderful toys. Writer Jason Aaron shows he has a decent handle on Marvel’s big guns and artist Mike Deodato gets better every year. I can’t say I like the overall plot—is killing a 50 year-old character really the best choice for a “big event” subject? The worst part—and not Aaron or Deodato’s fault—is the horridness of modern Marvel superhero costumes. Captain America looks awful—like he’s a transformer or something. His original costume worked for 70 years for a reason—it was cool. Iron Man’s armor is now mostly black, I’m sure because there is not enough black in superhero costumes. Change for a reason is fine. Change for change’s sake or to be exactly like the movie is stupid and ineffective.

This story does have my attention, and for now I’ll follow to see where it goes.

Rating: *** stars out of 5

The Woods #1
The Woods #1: I don’t think I am the audience for this book. Good writers can take almost any concept and, while they may have a specific audience in mind, make it enjoyable to general readers. Writer James Tynion IV seems to have the modern teenager in mind here and no one else.

It’s a normal day at Bay Point Preparatory High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The class clown/jock is streaking through the hallways, a popular cheerleader bemoans her unplanned pregnancy, the gay kid is ... gay, and the nerds want to be popular. In the blink of an eye the entire school is transported to another world, a planet of dark forests and flying bat-things that want to eat you. The only man-made thing in sight is a big metal arrow pointing north. To what? Are they supposed to follow it? Wait for their captors? Who knows? A general vote decides that the students and teachers will stay put, but a small group shows initiative by deciding to follow the arrow and see what happens.

This first issue does a good job of setting up the theme of the book and giving us a sample of the characters and their personalities. Unfortunately, the book is somewhat rote and derivative. This type of story has been done many times, most notably in the Japanese manga The Drifting Classroom, from which The Woods borrows heavily. The characters are a bit flat and the exact same as the characters in The Breakfast Club and a hundred other teenager movies. The mystery is intriguing—what happened? Who transported the school? What do they want? Where exactly are they? But I’m not sure I am interested enough to hang around to find out. It doesn’t help that the art is mediocre at best.

Rating: *** stars out of 5 

Chaos #1

Chaos #1: Chaos, a comic book company that went out of business some years ago, sort of returns with all of their signature characters in one book, courtesy of Dynamite. The most popular characters; Purgatori the vampire and her significant other Evil Ernie, are aiming to bring on Ragnarok (I didn’t even know they were Nordic). The Chosen, a group of humans with supernatural powers, are fighting to stop them. I’m not sure if Chastity knows what side she’s on—I certainly don’t. I like some of these characters in their original incarnations, and I always appreciated that they never took themselves too seriously. They don’t here, either. This miniseries means to bring the characters out of ...um, purgatory ... and give them something to do. The art could be better, but the story is fun and serviceable enough. Welcome back, Chaos!

Rating: *** stars out of 5

Monday, May 19, 2014

Foreign Television – Jekyll

Jekyll is one of my favorite things ever. Flawlessly written and wonderfully acted, this thriller is a gem that keeps viewers on edge and guessing until the last second. From the BBC, this English miniseries stars the brilliant James Nesbitt (Murphy’s Law, The Hobbit) as Tom Jackman, a psychologist and researcher. At midnight each night, he becomes … something else. A bolder, rowdier, “Type A” version of himself who is physically distinct from Jackman. He has no memory of what he does as this person, but they have struck a “deal” of sorts. Jackman gives his alter ego rules (always leave car keys nearby when the transformation happens, try to stay clothed, use condoms). In return, Jackman won’t try to end his existence. Jackman is direly afraid of the man (we’ll call him Mr. Hyde, for lack of a better term), and secretly breaks his word as he tries to discover where Hyde came from and how to dispatch him.

There is also a clever connection to Robert Louis Stevenson’s original The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. There are so many insane twists and turns in this show. When Mr. Hyde finds out Jackman is married and has children, he visits his family as his "brother"—is it just curiosity or does he mean them harm? When street toughs rough up Jackman and his wife, Hyde later pays them a terrifying visit. When commandos capture Hyde for a secret organization, they find they have bitten off more than they can chew (oh, did I say “bite?”). The biggest surprise comes with the revelation of what Hyde is and how he came to be. It comes together so beautifully, so organically, in the script.

The script to Jekyll is a wonder to behold. Characters have a depth unseen on most television shows and always surprise you. Just when you think the plot is going to zig, it zags at 300mph. Nothing is predictable or plays out as you might think. Jekyll is only six episodes, and each one opens like the layers of an onion to advance the story. Television doesn’t get any better.

Jekyll is available on Netflix and at Amazon.

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Tales of the Media – Elaine Green and the Psycho

Elaine Green
My former employer Elaine Green passed away last week. Elaine was a fascinating person. A pioneer female television reporter and broadcaster, Elaine had a rich and varied career. I worked for her as a writer, producer and sales rep at her company Video Features for several years. Here is a story of what happened to her early in her career, many years before I knew her.

On October 15, 1980, psycho James Hoskins took a reporter and news team hostage at WCPO, Channel 9, in Cincinnati. Elaine was that reporter. Once on a long drive to a sales meeting, Elaine opened up and told me about that incident.

Around 2:00am, Elaine and her news crew returned to Channel 9 after shooting a report about cornea replacement surgery. They had to film at night because that is the only time the doctor they wanted to interview was available. Tired and wanting to go home, they didn’t notice the tall man in the hat who slipped into the building behind them before the front door closed and locked. James Hoskins pointed a rifle at them and said he wanted to “go on the air.” Elaine remained calm and took the man to one of their studios. They turned on a camera. When the red light came on the camera, they did record what happened next. It was not put on the air live, even though Elaine told Hoskins it was. She actually interviewed him for about 45 minutes. They not only taped it, but also showed it in its entirety in a special report later that day. I watched that report at my grandmother’s house (I was 16), never dreaming I would know and work with that reporter one day.

I don’t remember much about the interview, just that the guy had it out for the government and thought “they” were trying to get him. He thought the media was in on it, which is why he kidnapped the news crew and wanted to go on the air to expose whatever conspiracy he thought was against him. I’ll never forget one chilling moment. Hoskins looked at a man off camera that walked by the studio door. Hoskins said something like, “Hey, pal, come on in here,” in a friendly voice. The man must have declined, because the most cold, lifeless look came into the psycho’s dead eyes. All pretense of friendliness was gone. He shifted his rifle and said, “No. Come in here now.” The guy must have obeyed, because the dead fish look faded instantly and he went back to talking to Elaine as if they were discussing possible tee times.

Through all this, Elaine maintained a heroic calm. She asked intelligent questions and treated Hoskins like any other interview subject. When he railed against the media, she told him about the cornea replacement story they did that night and how the media can be a force for good. She really seemed to calm him and make him see reason, at least for a few minutes.

Later, cops surrounded the building. Hoskins let everyone go, barricaded himself in the newsroom, then blew his brains out as the police burst through the doors. Soon after, it was revealed that he had murdered his girlfriend earlier in the day.

Elaine won a Peabody Award, one of the highest in broadcasting, for her work that day. She told me she didn’t like the kudos and notoriety she received for those events and her coolness under fire. She didn’t like being known as the “hostage girl” and nothing else, despite her numerous accomplishments. She had a tape of that interview around the office and I watched it one day. Generally, Elaine wasn’t perfect—she could be manipulative, self-absorbed and took things much too personally. But she was also smart, engaging and a total professional. Watching that tape, I couldn’t help but think that she possibly saved the lives of her crew, herself, and many Channel 9 employees that day. I don’t know that anyone could have handled that psycho any better.

Rest in Peace, Elaine. I’ll always appreciate—and use—the things you taught me.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Books – The Pagan Lord by Bernard Cornwell

Bernard Cornwell is probably my favorite current author—at least of the writers who release books regularly (I’m looking at you, George R.R. Martin). He writes mostly historical novels and has an endless bag of tricks. It’s hard to put one of his books down, he knows how to write adventure, suspense, action, romance, and has the best battle scenes in literature. Very few of his books have not been to my taste—and even then they are extremely well written. A prolific author, he wrote the best ever King Arthur trilogy (The Warlord Chronicles), a tale of an archer looking for the Holy Grail (The Grail Quest Series), the most popular British Napoleonic hero (Richard Sharpe, 21 novels and counting), a Revolutionary War hero (The Nathaniel Starbuck Chronicles), a number of terrific stand-alone medieval novels, and my favorite beloved series; The Saxon Chronicles. His writing tends to be gritty, realistic and action-packed.

The Saxon Chronicles (The Last Kingdom, The Pale Horseman, The Lords of the North, Sword Song, The Burning Land, The Death of Kings and The Pagan Lord so far), take place around 800 A.D. and are about the founding of a united England. The point-of-view character is Uhtred Uhtredson, a Saxon raised by Danes (Vikings) and currently fighting for the Saxons against them. Uhtred is a warrior, a lord and a man of power. He leads men and battles in the shield wall. He has served Saxon King Alfred for many years, but in The Pagan Lord Alfred is dead and his son Edward now rules the south.

The Pagan Lord begins with Uhtred trying to stop his eldest son from being ordained a priest. Uhtred is a pagan, and despises his Christian son as weak. When he accidently kills a priest, he goes on the run from some very angry townspeople. When his hall is burned by an enemy Dane he has few places to turn, so he tries to recapture his childhood home fort at Bebbanburg. Failing that (but gaining some valuable hostages), he comes up with a battle plan he thinks will defeat the Danes and put him back in Saxon favor. Through a series of hair-raising adventures, Uhtred joins forces with an enemy and an ally to fight the Danes in a real historical battle.

Cornwell’s battle scenes truly rock like no other writer. He is a gifted storyteller, with three dimensional characters and thrill-filled plots. One of the best things about his writing is that his characters aren’t thinly disguised people from 2014, with modern, enlightened attitudes and opinions. He understands the mindset of people from other times. He inhabits the way they think and lives in their worldview. That helps establish a realism so authentic it’s as if you’re reading something written at the time. If you like historicals and have never read Cornwell, do yourself a favor and head to the library. Just don’t expect progressive politics and 21st century attitudes. Expect real history wrapped around an incredible story. There are supposed to be several more books in The Saxon Chronicles to spin the tale of Uhtred and how England was united as one country. Hopefully the story won’t end for a long, long time. As Uhtred likes to say, “wyrd bio ful aread.” Fate is inexorable.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Movies - Amazing Spider-Man 2

*Slight Spoilers* The movie trailers pretty much told the story here. A bloated, SFX-laden turd. Andrew Garfield continues to underwhelm as Spider-Man. Viewers pray he would just finish a sentence, rather than the stumbling, mumbling “I’m-such-a-kooky-teenager” performance this 31 year-old man puts forward. Emma Stone, a talented actress, is hopelessly miscast as Gwen Stacy. Jamie Foxx was all right as Electro, but his resemblance to the even worse Batman & Robin’s Mr. Freeze was a constant reminder of how awful these blockbusters can get. The plot was drab and the dialog clichéd. And why did the actors repeat almost every line of dialog twice? Listen to them talk—are they trying to convince themselves this flat drivel was worthy of being said? This is an SFX movie, pure and simple, and the action sequences shine. Viewers can easily tell that the sharp minds at Marvel, the ones behind the original three Spider-Man flicks and those original X-Men movies, flew to Marvel Studios and left the Spider-Man license at Sony, which they were contractually forced to. Pity.

Three interesting points: This film is partly inspired by Amazing Spider-Man Annual #5 and Amazing Spider-Man #121. The ending of Spider-Man #121 is a doosy and controversial to this day. I wondered if the powers-that-be would have the guts to leave those events in the movie. They did.  Color me surprised.

Secondly, there is one brief scene that is jaw-droppingly inspirational. I won’t ruin it but it has to do with a boy in a Spider-Man outfit standing in the street. That 90 seconds captures what Spider-Man is all about.

Thirdly, the costume was good. Best live-action Spider-Man costume so far. As for the rest of the film, Bill said it best ... “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Rating: ** stars out of 5

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Comics Capsule Reviews

4/30/14 Books

Star Wars: Rebel Heist #1
Star Wars: Rebel Heist #1: Writer Matt Kindt injects a bit of spy intrigue into the Star Wars Universe. Kindt’s Mary Sue character* Jan travels to the city of Correlia to meet his hero Han Solo for a clandestine Rebel Alliance mission. His cover is blown and Solo helps him flee from the Imperial authorities. During the chase, Solo basically gives up and lets the bad guys take them. Jan loses faith in his hero for his refusal to fight to the death. As they are both put into Imperial dungeons, it’s clear that events are all part of Solo’s bigger plan. But Jan is so angry he is ready to turn stool pigeon against the Rebels. Will he come to his senses before they are both executed? In a big arena? By a big saliva-dripping George Lucas monster?

This is a fun start to the miniseries, with Solo running his patented multi-layered con against the Empire. As usual, they look dumb enough to fall for it. I look forward to the story unfolding nicely from here.

Rating: ***1/2 out of 5 stars

* For those unfamiliar with the term, a “Mary Sue” is when the author puts himself in the story as a thinly disguised character.

Southern Bastards #1
Southern Bastards #1: Sometimes it’s tough to experience media set in the U.S. South. Writers figure we’re all racist, shoeless idiots who suck on hay sticks and say “y’all” a lot. Except for the “y’all” thing, that’s only like, 83% of us. The rest of us are enlightened sweethearts who speak perfectly good, accent-free English. Y’all.

Southern Bastards opens with a splash page of a dog defecating in a field. Here we go again, I thought. However, writer Jason Aaron and artist Jason Latour, both from a lot deeper South than I am, present a pretty good crime story. In this first issue, Earl Tubbs drives into Craw County, Alabama to clear out his deceased father’s house. His father was a sheriff who ruled Craw County with an iron hand. A tough, no nonsense lawman, Bertrand Tubbs may or may not have been corrupt, we don’t yet have a clear picture.

Trying to keep a low profile, that idea is blown to bits when Earl, having a piece of pie in the local diner, stops the local druglord’s thugs from beating on a loser who owes him money. Earl has now alerted the bad guys to the fact that he is back, if only for a few days. He has not only made himself a target, but may have to answer for his father’s legacy, whatever that might be.

I don’t get the impression that Aaron is painting the entire South in a bad light, so far this just seems to be a crime story set in that region of the country. I’ll see what percentage of the population he paints as toothless meth-heads before criticizing further. If it’s more than 83%, I may have to write a strongly-worded letter.

Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Rachel Rising #25
Rachel Rising #25: More creepy goodness and back-to-life hijinks. Rachel and her friends try to suss out who originally murdered her. Chloe stuffs firecrackers into rats, drops them into a garbage can and lets physics do the rest. Aunt Johnny limps into the house on crutches and surprisingly bonds with Chloe. Rachel concocts a spell that will heal all of their various ailments in a day or two so they can keep hunting the killers still loose in town. Highlight of this issue: Earl asks Chloe if she has any scars. “None that show,” she answers. Just too creepy. Can Terry Moore make a bad comic? I think not.

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars.

Silver Surfer #2
Silver Surfer #2: I think writer Dan Slott may be on to something here. The Surfer tries to save Dawn Greenwood’s life by battling a feminine cosmic being who calls herself “the Queen of Nevers.”  Meanwhile, Dawn doesn’t deal well with being a prisoner and conspires with the other freaky alien abductees to break out of her containment cell. How she does so is creative and amusing. After making nice with the Queen and deciding she is not a threat, she shows the Surfer several of his possible futures. He heads back to the Impericon to confront Zed, the mastermind behind this whole wacky caper. Filled with comedy bits and fantastic pop art by Michael Allred, this is becoming a book to watch.

Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Doc Savage #5
Doc Savage #5: The Shadow has always been my favorite of the pulp heroes (I don’t really count Tarzan as a pulp). But the writing was better in Doc Savage. When the original 181 Doc novels were reissued by Bantam in the ‘70s, I read around the first 50 or so. I loved them.
 This title is taking Doc through the decades to the present day, and writer Chris Roberson is showing a vivid understanding of Doc and his world. I miss the original Savage crew, especially Ham and Monk bickering like old women. But Doc and his cousin Pat are the only ones who got the benefit of the non-aging serum before it was destroyed, so everyone but them is getting older. Doc keeps bringing new blood into the group, such as Tamsin “Roughneck” Abbot (from issue 4) and Jetse “Happy” Van Oorschot. The two are with Doc on an orbital mission in 1988, when some cultists get an old Nazi laser satellite working and start to destroy wide swaths of the West coast. After some narrow escapes, Doc manages to use teamwork to dispatch the laser and still get everyone home safe. This issue features some fun close calls and a welcome addition of new supporting cast (a feature superhero comics no longer offer for the most part), capped off by another great Alex Ross cover image.

Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Monday, May 5, 2014

Books - Ex-Patriots by Peter Clines

This sequel to Ex-Heroes continues the story of a group of Los Angeles superheroes and civilians vs. zombies. I know, I know, but it was fun, what can I say? The book is well-written, as the action changes from downtown LA (where snipers vie in a point system to take out celebrity zombies) to the desert, where the heroes discover a military base with surviving army personnel. The base contains enhanced soldiers that may or may not be the psycho-military from most zombie movies. An intriguing set of heroes are featured, mainly St. George, the fire-breathing "Superman" of the group, Stealth, a female Batman, and Zzap, a hero with electric-based powers. The book had a fun plot, thrills, and the constant sense of doom that most zombie stories have, but still manages to be a solid adventure/superhero tale and ends on an up note. This and the previous book are recommended, if you like this sort of thing.
Rating: *** 1/2 out of 5 stars

Friday, May 2, 2014

Comics Capsule Reviews

4/23/14 Books

Avengers Undercover #3

Avengers Undercover #3: The Bad News: This book has absolutely nothing to do with the Avengers. Marvel, in a desperate attempt to appease shareholders, just slaps the word “Avengers” on 95% of their books, regardless of the subject matter, and hope they sell a few extra copies and no one notices. The Good News: Avengers Undercover is a very good comic.

Still reeling from the events in Avengers: Arena (see above paragraph about any actual relation that book had to the Avengers), the superpowered teenagers kidnapped by arch-villain Arcade and forced to fight in an Arena go looking for some revenge. Looks like they found it. Writer Dennis Hopeless is no stranger to controversy or good writing. He portrays the PTSD the kids are going through as both poignant and believable. They track Arcade to a very underground club he owns and join the festivities until the smug slug appears. The kids finally get some much-deserved payback for their mistreatment at Arcade’s hands, and it couldn’t come soon enough. Hopeless handles the writing so well, with real trauma and emotion coming from these poor kids put into an impossible situation. If the ending is real, it will mean a major life change for everyone involved. Hopeless has carved a nice niche for himself in this Avenger-less Avengers universe. I don’t care what they call it; I’m in.

Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Powers Bureau #9

Powers: Bureau #9: Writer Brian Michael Bendis runs hot and cold for me. His plots tend to be creative with some true out-of-the-box thinking. But his dialog is repetitive and it’s hard to tell one character from another by their speech patterns. Everyone is a snarky smart-alec. In Powers Bureau, his creator-owned book for older audiences, everyone is a snarky smart-alec who says the F-word a lot. Cops Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim investigate superpowered crime, whether the supers are the perpetrators or the victims. Christian is a long-lived hero who has gone through several identities, Pilgrim is the most annoying character in the history of comics. She really is. Always whining, always screaming, she can use the F-word as a noun, verb and adjective all in one sentence. There have been several volumes of Powers, the partners were originally police detectives and now work for the FBI. I was fervently wishing Deena would be violently killed during each iteration of the book, but no luck so far.

In the present storyline, the teenaged superhero team The Circle has been murdered after fighting off an alien invasion. Walker and Pilgrim are interrogating a person of interest, a famous hero named Extreme. When introducing herself to him, Pilgrim remarks, “I’m Deena Pilgrim. Huge fan. Unless you murdered those teen superheroes. Then you can go to hell choking on my ****.” Classy, Bendis. Mr. Bendis should hang around more adults to learn how real professionals talk. Anyway, they do get information from Extreme, who promptly escapes by flying through the ceiling, then comes back slowly and in pieces, killed by another unknown perpetrator.

Despite my snark, I generally enjoy Powers. The book has been published in one form or another for 10 years now. I wonder if Bendis and artist Michael Avon Oeming are losing some of their passion? It may be time to let Powers rest for a while, so they can enjoy other pursuits.

Rating: *** out of 5 stars

Shotgun Wedding #4
Shotgun Wedding #4: This four-issue miniseries comes to a perfect close. This is one of the most pleasurable books of the year so far. Creators Harms and Pun have crafted a tight, action packed story of betrayal and revenge. Chloe has kidnapped Denise, her former fiancé Mike’s new bride-to-be. Holding her in a high-rise building under construction, she lies in wait with her team of mercenaries and Denise tied to a chair in her wedding dress. But Mike isn’t out of cards. He tries some unexpected strategies with friends of his own and ends up turning a few tables on Chloe and her team. But will it be enough? The wrap up to the tale is explosive and satisfying. I’ll eagerly be following both creators to whatever they do next.

Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Conan the Avenger #1
Conan the Avenger #1: (Also having nothing to do with the Avengers) Dark Horse has done their typical great job on their various Conan series. I will sincerely miss the Tim Truman/Tomas Giorello creative team on the regular Conan comic. They were as good as the all-time Conan team of Roy Thomas and John Buscema. This book starts a new story by writer Fred Van Lente and artist Brian Ching, who both turn in professional work. Their task is made a bit easier by adapting Conan creator Robert E. Howard’s original stories, but they still put their own welcome spin on the material.

Conan, still devastated by grief from the death of his pirate queen Belit, passes out drunk in a skeevy tavern. He wakes up naked in a garbage dump, filthy and penniless. Not to mention the hangover. Livid and lusting for revenge, the barbarian climbs his way out of the dump and tracks down the thieves. If you’ve ever read a Conan story you can guess what happens next. Probably if you’ve never read a Conan story you can guess what happens next; violence ensues. These stories are like comfort food for felons. In the end Conan finds a village full of possible new enemies and shows signs of coming out of his grief-induced funk. Onward to reaving and slaying!

Rating: *** stars out of 5